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On The Other Side Of The Eye 



Poems 
Bryan Thao Worra 



Sam's Dot Publishing 

2 



Dedicated to my friends, my family and my teachers, 
and to those who have been all of the above. 

And to my father, John Stafford Worra, (1935-2006) 



Table of Contents 

I. Must A World Sleep To Dream 

What Kills A Man 1 

New Myths of The Northern Land 2 

Recovering From War 3 

Imperious 4 

Burning Eden One Branch At A Time 5 

Hmong Market At Luang Prahang 6 

Aliens 7 

lO 8 

Song of the Kaiju 9 

Little Bear. 10 

Observing The Oblivious II 

II. A History of Water and Memory 

The Deep Ones 12 

The End of Me 13 

The You Do Devil 14 

An Archaeology of Snow Forts 15 

Before Going Feral 16 

Destroy All Monsters!. 18 

five fragments 19 

The Ghost Nang Nak 22 

The Tiger Penned At Kouangsi Falls 23 

A Question of Place 24 

III. Ghosts of Earth and Knowledge 

Maggots 26 

Songkran Niyomsane's Forensic Medicine Museum 26 

Wisdom 27 

Warhammer. 29 

Building A Library 30 

The Watermelon 32 

Democracia 33 

The Maidens of Sivilay 34 

Kingdoms 35 



Oni 36 

Thread Between Stone 37 

IV. Miscellaneous Rumors of My Time 

Carbon 39 

Her Body, My Monuments 40 

Pavlov's Menagerie Ruminates 41 

Moments In The Eye 42 

Timepieces 43 

Poultry 44 

Whorl. 45 

End Notes 

Afterword by Barbara Jane Reyes 



From 1954 to 1975, a bloody civil war was fought for the future of 
Laos, the Kingdom of a Million Elephants. 

The US State Department and the CIA raised a clandestine army 
of over 30,000 guerillas drawn from highland tribes for the Royal 
Lao Government's campaign against the communist Pathet Lao 
supported by the Russians and North Vietnamese. 

The guerilla operations soon broke into open warfare. 

Near the end, children as young as 11 years old were deployed on 
the battlefields alongside US paramilitary advisors and 
mercenaries on the mysterious Plain of Jars, the sacred mountain 
Phou Pha Ti, the Bolovens Plateau, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and 
many others. 

With the LIS withdrawal from Southeast Asia and the collapse of 
the Royal Lao Government in 1975, thousands were forced to flee 
because of their roles in the war. 

By the beginning of the 2V* century, over 400,000 of those refugees 
work to rebuild their lives in the United States, even as the world 
struggles to build a new future... 



/. Must A World Sleep to Dream 



What Kills A Man 

Always small things: 
A round. 
Holes. 
Fumes. 
Edges. 

Split atoms. 
A second. 
A footstep. 
A sip. A bite. A word. A cell. 

A motion. An emotion. A dream. 
A fool. 

A bit of salt. A drop. A fragment. 
The true root of arguments. 

What kills a man is mysterious 
Only in how minute the culprit 
Behind the blow. 

We're careless, and forget: 
Even when what kills a man 
Is another man. 

It is a small thing that kills a man. 
The whole earth a single grain 

On a sprawling table filled with the smallest things. 



New Myths of The Northern Land 

"Dream," I said, 

"Aren't you tired of making new legends 

That no one but I ever hears?" 

"Bones," she said, 

"Aren't you ever tired of asking questions 

That only I can answer?" 

I went back to bed, 

Waiting for the new king to arrive. 

His talking mirror filled 

With dire pronouncements of flame. 



Recovering From War 

There is a deficit of contact. 

To touch is to risk. 

To trust contradicts wisdom, 
So ignorance prevails. 
Absent truths (memories) 
Ehcit abundant lusts 
Hammered 

With gold, rose and incense 
To reform states we fear 
May rebuild to rewind time 
But not remember: 

How we failed the first time 
That we now have fewer 
To remember with 

As we rebuild to recover 
Some things terrible 

Some, less so. 



10 



Imperious 

In the end, I'm a minor beginning 
Of a love for small empires. 

Tiny kingdoms who don't 
Outwear their welcome. 

Short reigns, minor abuses. 
Powers and scandals that 

Don't tip the earth off her axis. 

The kind only daffodils 
And mayflies seem to master 

Before becoming one again 
With wet stone, hoary space 

That a single atom (with some luck) 
Can convert into an entire new galaxy 

Who won't remember us, like a callow child 
Playing in the bluegrass before the rain. 



11 



Burning Eden One Branch At A Time 

My father, a skull before the wars were over. 

Never saw my mother's flight in terror 

A s our humbled kingdom foil to flame and shell 

My mother was stripped to ink among the bureaucrats, 
A number for their raw statistics of jungle errors 
Collated into cold lodgers marked "Classified" 

My feet dangling in the Mississippi have forgotten 
What the mud in Vientiane feels like between your toes 
While my hands hold foreign leaves and I whisper 

"Maple" 

"Oak" 

"Weeping Willow" 

As if saying their names aloud will rebuild my home. 



12 



Htnong Market At Luang Prabang 

If I am successful, 

I will be immortal and misunderstood. 

If these emaciated girls on the candlelit street 
Of Luang Prabang are successful. 

They understand they will live for another melting day 
Dreaming idly of an ink-faced man like me 
Who will whisk them away for good. 

Only he's perfect, always remembering his pinky promise 
To come back the next night 

To buy their dusty bed sheets 
For a fistful of wrinkled kip. 



13 



Aliens 

We turn our dishes to 
He a veil/ but 

What manner of dog will come running 
To lick them. 

Drawn to the censored moaning groins 
And the pyrotechnics of false death 
And chemical love? 

Fetch me a big stick to shake 
At these stellar voyeurs! 

I want nothing to do with them 

As I run down my strange streets. 
An accidental alien without 
A ray gun. 



14 



Moon Crossing Bone 



Lover of change, of delta 

Of poetry stuffed with raw porcelain 

And craters of saddened basalt 

Glide your light across my beams of pale 
They gleam beneath silver and bolts of sinh 
Beneath my currents and soft bridges 
Erected to span my humble limbs like chains 

Oh, kiss them, for the sake of memory 

For the sake of secrets as intangible as dreams 

As meaningful as the dark hair tangling 

My darling's hands as she struggles 

To become clean, to break free of mud 

And to sing for the true naks sleeping beneath 

Black stupas your candelabra face always forgets 
Are there. 



15 



lO 

Trying to live within the turn 
Of the Wheel and the Screw, 
Our books collect dust, and fade. 

Paper is a dying commodity of exchange, 
And people will give you credit to know that. 

Raw meaning is lost as the mind oxidizes. 
Infrequently polished with flag. 
Sackcloth and the spit 
Of ideology and dogma. 

We burn to learn, throwing the promise of ash 
Into the meals of hungry children who no longer 
Want anything more 
Than the truth of a home entertainment system. 

They do not dare aspire in a world 
Of hard drives and hard times. 

They are the most mortal of futures. 
Who speak in icons, not queries. 

They are swept from shore to shore in 

A sea of information. 

Swaddled in silicon chips 

Rocking their thoughts to sleep 

While they travel over 

The great nocturnal depths 

In plastic ships. 



16 



Our grand empires of sand cannot spare tokens 
To the impoverished forgotten mass 
Conveniently huddled 
As rough statistics upon the page... 

Above the din, a cry is announced. 
The great announcement for our age: 
The laws will pass in this land... 

No one shall travel who has no reason 

To go somewhere. 

No one shall travel beyond the confines of their home. 
As the scientist makes manifest his dreams. 
And teaches his children to dream. 

Industrious liquors and chemicals from the factories 

Swirl and melt 

Away 

The connections of atom to atom, 

of child to parent. 

The dreams of the Safavids have now been forgotten, 
A testament to our scholarship. 

The merchants have sold us their lenses 
That we may observe their lessons: 

With speed, our semis hurtle down highways 
In an explosion of marketing. 

Hauling empty trailers back to their homes. 



17 



Song of the Kaiju 

Through foam, 

Through surf we rise, dark waters parting 

As our titan's foot breaks the shore. 

Armies rise against us with a roar. 
Guns flaring in the night- 

Our cause, our fears, our fight 
Is for historians alone to decide; 

We fierce combatants have no time 
To reflect on our footnote's remarks. 

In raging moments 

Fists become claws. 

Our small tales lost beneath the crushing weight 

Of epic bloodshed. 

Cities toppling 

Amid the screams 

So out of touch with time: 

Turn back! Turn hack! 

Turn back, you mighty beasts! 

But deaf ears mark our reptilian hearts 
That sag and sigh within our wake, 
The tragic years untold, unheard. 
Trampled upon the world's stage. 

This isn't Shakespeare, we are no Moors, 
No witch-doomed Scots, we know. 



18 



Our loves are not the songs of poets 
Though they rise to a fever 
Beneath these scales 
Following our instincts, 
man-made hurricanes mad as Typhon 

Filled with the simple potential of half an atom. 



19 



Little Bear (Ursa Minor) 

If they skin you, 

Will they find a tiny man 

With eyes the color of stars 

Or a paw, fury and crimson 
Fierce jaw yearning 
For some cosmic salmon 

Longing to scamper 
Across the great latitudes of night 
Against the axis of a mother's boundaries 
Before winter arrives in the heavens 

Moaning to forgotten gods 

A child, watching Sirius from afar 

Daydreaming of the man daydreaming of you 

From his basement 

As he discovers a distended Orion telescope 

During spring cleaning: 

Memories awake, 

stretching with a hungry yawn 



20 



Observing The Oblivious 

I squat 

Among bamboo and scaly 
Things 

Like a stone-faced deity 
From Bayon 

The ant devours my puny home 
To make his own. 

Fears my magnifying glass 
And sole. 

We never look up enough: 
Who knows 

If the feet of God 

Aren't about to leave their own mark 

On our fragile spines. 
As they uncurl 

Beneath his summer home ceiling 

When he isn't looking. 



21 



II. A History of Water and Memory 



22 



The Deep Ones 

From the sea we come. 
From the sea we come. 
Our mouths, the inns of the world 

The salt of the earth unwelcome 
At the tables and charts of 
Explorers who expect: 

Commodity and pliant territory 

Kingdoms, not wisdom 

Blood, not heaven's children 

We grow with uncertain immortality 
At the edge not made for man 

Bending, curving, humming cosmic — 
Awake and alien 

Our mass a dark and foaming mask, 
A bed of enigma to certain eyes 

One with the moon. 

One with the stars. 

One with the ash that whispers history 

In the same breath as myth and gods 
Whose great backs yawn before us 

As we change with a growing tongue 
Growling amid the dreamlands 

We built one blade, one leaf, one golden wall at a time. 

23 



The End of Me 

Equals MC^ 

Is found at the start 
Of "Pluribus Unum" 

Touches both 
Heaven and Earth 

Is filled with 
Infinitely divisible 
Emptiness 

Holds a younger 
Woman slipping 
Out the door 

Who knows nothing 
Of Venus, of tropics. 
Of Alpha or Omega. 

Her mouth is a sermon. 
Her deltas of change. 
Of certain cycle, 
Of ferocious water 

Bring me to face 
My ends 

Alone and dry 
Because that is how 

Memory heals itself: 

24 



It makes vast deserts to try failures. 

Those that thrive become vast rivers 
For secret worlds that thirst. 



25 



The You Do Devil 

Roars against the 
OGod 

Who knows everyone 

Is secretly made of nothing 

Haunts battlefield and bedroom 

With spilled salt and uncertain accountability 

Holds a minor Montana garter snake as a child, 
Slips a hand up a married London thigh 

Talks in thick tongues too familiar 
For my own good 

Lies in wait, idle teeth sunk deep in the aorta, 
Long neck never underfoot enough. 

Pulls my strings to make me smile: 

None of this is really recorded. 
Except the way I tell it to you. 

So notorious for your selective amnesia. 



26 



An Archaeology ofSnoiv Forts 

There's not much left to be said 

Some well-washed stone hasn't heard before. 

History is composed of broken walls and bad neighbors: 
Just ask these chips from Berlin, the Parthenon and Cathay 
Or these cool magma hands of Pompeii, dark and grey. 

If you listen carefully in the right place 
On University Avenue, you will learn 
There is a minor wall near the Yalu River 
Dancing on the hills of Qin for the moon. 

Who knows exactly what I mean 
In every tongue worth mention. 

She's moonlighting as a curved garden serpent 
Coiling around old Laocoon, 
The Suspicious One with his astute eye. 
Crooning with a sly wink, 

"Come, touch true history." 

And how the moon must laugh when she spies 

The tiniest hill in Minnetonka, 

Where the small hands of the earth have erected 

A magnificent white wall, 

A snowy miniature Maginot 

Raised some scant hours before. 

Already melting into a hungry, roiling river 

Who is not yet finished eating Louisiana for brunch. 



27 



Before Going Feral 

On our Island, among our laws and wise 

You see us The Other. 
Not parallels: 

You spill blood. 

Ingest, ejaculate and excrete. 

Your graves deep as yourself. 

The subject of your open prayers? 

Our lively mouths never touch your stiff flesh. 

Ever saying 'fetch', you flee 

At the first sign of trouble in our heat. 

We, neither man nor animal in your eyes. 
Blights in a paradise you claim limbo: 

How can we not question your perfection? 
Creator. Created. Creature 
With your cryptic purities. 



28 



Destroy All Monsters! 

When the orders came, we were not 
(could not) 
(dared not be) 
Surprised: 

Humanity must be preserved 

At all costs. 

Despite a decidedly 

Checkered record 

Since the biased jottings of Herodotus. 

That is the old line. 

Safe to stand by 

A leaf of litmus on which to write 

Our strategies like old Sun Tzu. 

Monstrosity and terror have no place 
In our crumbling streets filled with 
Graffiti and youth 
Who are the heirs to our creations. 

Whether you are a lizard with a 
Skyscraper between your toes 
Or some smaller fiend 
In whom we fear to find 
Too close a mirror. 

There just isn't enough space in this vast world 
For both our dreams. 



29 



If only we could truly believe you'd be content 
In some distant menagerie. 

Instead of plotting where to bury you 

beyond our sight 



30 



Babylon Gallery 

She brought the gray spoon 

We hung upon the gallery wall 

From the talaat stalls in downtown Phonsavan. 

She was supposed to be collecting dab neeg— folktales 

And we were showing off art we were so certain 
Would change the way the world sees 

That stumbled elephant we rode in on. 

She was an indelicate work, this buang. 

A light cockatrice feather 

Crude malice her center 

Her bowl an echo of bomb craters 

Whispering mad as Gorgon. 

"They dine with spoons like this all over there/' 
We're informed. 

"Hammered from war scraps the dogs 
Find indigestible. They sold me this one 
Certain it's American bullets at the core." 

"It was time, they said, we took them back." 

I pondered how many startled people 
This carnivorous spoon passed through 

in her previous incarnations. 

Karma denying her a role in a finer flatware set for the saints. 



31 



Oddly, for as many threads as she cut short 
She was too weak to be the butter knife 
She should have been. 

Swords into plowshares. 
Someone scribbled casually in a comment card. 

One of many remarks 
Disposable as plastic sporks. 



32 



five fragments 

Only 7 people walked away from S-21 

My critics ask me to find the beautiful words 

To make this more than a statement. 

Chase the rhythms and meter to propel this into true poetry 

"Aesthetics mustn't die in literature 

Don't starve language 
With your emaciated lyric 
Don't keep back the flourishes that will set 
these words apart 

Or anger and memories will become only passing wind 

And the tattered spines of your book about this camp 

Will be thrown in the garbage 

Without even the pomp of a Berlin book burning." 

Surely, the 14,000 would appreciate that. 
Who have no eyes, no voice, no hands 
To applaud and cheer anymore. 

They want me to splash in Pol Pot's rivers to find the true tears 

From mere fallen rain 

But if you ask my neighbors across the hall. 

You will find a particular indifference whether I succeed or not. 

11. 

When the portraits came 

In black and white 

Stained and torn without a trace of artistic intent 

They were mounted upon a plain white wall in the Weisman 

Across from a stout statue of a squatting Buddha 

And his irresponsible smile. 



33 



Recovered from the mud after 

the Khmer rogues went running, 

there were no names, 

only stenciled numbers that meant nothing 

the next day in the camp. 

How many years have they been touring, 

these haunted faces, 

hoping someone would recognize them long enough 

to restore names to them? 

If the words "It's tragic" cross your lips. 
The odds increase horrifically 
That you will give the matter no further thought 

within hours. 

In the other gallery, 
Dion's solemn Cabinet of Curiosities, 
Custom assembled for the University 
Was amusing the spectators 
With all of the charm of a Renaissance scholar. 

All of the usual divisions were there: 

Underworld, Sea, and Air. 

The Terrestrial Realm 

Humankind 

The Library and Archive. 

The Allegory of Vision 

The Allegory of Sound and Time 

The Allegory of History 

Gaze upon The Sodomites Descent Into Hell 

A specimen of Algae 



34 



A large hand-painted fan 

A freeze-dried cow lung 

A set of black Chinese binding shoes 

Birthing forceps from the late 1800s 

(whose modern counterparts have barely changed) 

A Napoleonic teapot. 

(In the words of Yul Brynner) 
Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera. 

The day I went, a young woman in green muttered 
to her boyfriend: 

"What is this junk from the basement? It's not art. 
And it doesn't belong here." 

Moments later, he replied thoughtfully: 
"I wish they validated parking." 

III. 

When the B-52s pummeled Neak Loueng by accident 

Over a hundred Khmer died without cause 

With no more ceremony 

Than a shrill whistle and a burst of flame and shrapnel 

From a mile high. 

Ambassador Swank came to assuage the grief 
Of those who survived with the grand gesture 
Of $100 bills, American. 



35 



^according to an anguished footnote from a man who 
had read about the matter in a London paper at the time 

A woman I know from a village near 

Angkor Wat 

Tries to escape the nightmares of the camps today 

By filling her house with 

Tropical trees and flowers from her homeland 

She remembered as a little girl 

IV. 

In 1990, over an after-school match of Trivial Pursuit 

My teacher asked 

What is the name of the country where Pol Pot 

Instituted Year Zero 

Killing thousands of his countrymen. 

Cambodia, I answered with certainty, 
confident and familiar. 

No, he replied. 

No? What the hell is it, then? 

The card says Kampuchea. 

It's the same thing. 

No it's not. 

Ten years later, I can't believe I argued over that point 
As I stare at crude wooden tables piled with skulls 
Near Phnom Penh. 



36 



V. 

In two years, I don't believe I've said more 

Than a dozen words to my Khmer neighbors 

In the apartment below me. 

That's just the way it is. 

The other day, I walked past the grandmother 
Trying to talk to her Hmong counterpart 
Across the hall. 

Broken English 

hesitant and uncertain 

had become the bridge as each stood in their doorway 

fumbling towards something resembling an ordinary 

conversation. 

Gardening and grandchildren seemed to be the subject. 



I still don't know what to make of it all. 
My head heavy as a mango 
without a mouth to feed 



37 



The Ghost NangNak 

Hates the draft. 

Isn't very good on issues 

Of fertility 

But isn't too bad 
With the lottery 
If you pay your respects 
Properly by the takian trees. 

She's eating diced mangos 
With a mouth of ebony ants. 

Kept company by a 

TV tuned to tacky Thai soap operas. 

Surrounded by white mutts 

Who hate black dogs of any pedigree. 

Wants a simple life again. 
To set down the Buddha's yellow candles 
For just a minute. 

But she has a lot of karma to pay off 
For trying to keep her family together 

Spooking mischievous children at night 
Who thinks she's looking for playmates 

For her beautiful baby 
Toddling between Wat Mahabut 
And the Prakanong River. 



38 



The Tiger Penned At Kouangsi Tails 

roars like an orphan 

her dreams flooded with running water 
ambles her cool square 
ready to ambush giant grasshoppers 
who rub their legs to smile 

at night, she's just shadow 
and a dying pyre. 

above, a mango hangs his head, 

an impotent heart filled with murder. 



39 



The Shape 

What is the shape of the wise man? 

Is it the unbhnking eye or the open hand? 

Is it the restless foot or the compassionate heart? 
Is it a book of prayers or a moment of silence? 

Is it a wild horse in the fields of Shangri La 
Or a bolt of lightning over Angkor Wat? 

Is it that fragile water lily in a pond in Luang Prabang 
Or the croaking frog in a Mississippi mudslide 
Gone now, without a trace. 

No one says it is an unsheathed sword. 

Few would argue for a cracked atomic mushroom 

Boiling an ocean of sharp-toothed sharks to prove an equation. 

Uncertain judgment should be noted 

Regarding tiny infants on University Avenue 

Or humble ants packing their ditty bags 

At the first hint of a cloud of RAID coming their way. 

And it is almost certainly never found in a mirror. 



40 



A Question of Place 

Poseidon digs a grave for me in the side 
Of beleaguered Gaia: 

Trench wide, ocean deep, a hole calling 
From beneath his cold, stoic waves. 

Ambitiously he makes ready. 
Gazing at the teeming shores of man 

As though there is not space enough upon the earth 
For this sort of thing. 

The Ocean Lord does not realize the methods of disposal 
are as myriad as the erosions. 

Even with feet pierced at birth, 

Oedipus could not resist the call to a home 

he never recognized. 

The son is tied to fate, to soil, to heart, to grave. 

What home is this, that people want? 

To be born where the final comfort is served. 

In exasperation, hearts gasp for the complexity of ants. 

Surely ants don't ask such riddles of themselves. 
Even those night travelers upon the beach 

Swept away by Poseidon's mischief. 

Trying to return beneath the hill of their own making. 



41 



Furtj 

And I swear sometimes 

I'm going to take this town down 

Downtown 

Uptown 

Around Town 

Like a London Bridge 
And a Korean song. 

Gonna grab my shabby gear 
And pull down a titan's ear. 

Gonna holler till the walls buckle 
Yawping and Squawking 

Whatever a man's gotta do 
To get through to you. 

The revolution is actually 
A straight line to change 

You can't keep going in circles- 
I see that now. 

He's left, she's right. 
Who's wrong? 

That's not even the question. 



42 



You see, we're free. 

To Be in an age of empty 
Is like a period at the end 

Of a one- word 
Sentence. 

I've got fire at the bottom of my shoes 
Like I scraped myself on a dragon. 

I've got a body of mud 

That's tired of being treated like dirt. 

I've got water flowing for a heart 
'Cause oceanS/ 

Oceans always get the last word. 

And I swear sometimes 

This town ain't gonna take me down 



43 



III. Ghosts of Earth and Knowledge 



44 



Maggots 

Chew their meals with 
Draughts of iron and salt. 

They know they hunger. 

These mechanics. 

These instruments of turning 

With their quiet arias of change, 
Their inventive waltzes 
For raw lacerations. 

Live flesh is spared their deliberate groping. 

They only have bellies for the dead. 

A shaved monk dreads samsara. 
The eternal return. 

A young boy saves 
Coins for a bicycle. 

Many mothers understand all of these routines. 
Circumambulating their prams before nursing. 



45 



Songkran Niyomsane's 
Forensic Medicine Museum 

Behind the Siriraj Hospital: 

The Chinese cannibal's corpse 

Was stuffed and hung in a glass box. 

His bad orthodontia flickers like nightlights 

After hours. 

Honestly, he's a bad piece 
Of shoe leather. Rancid jerky. 

Impolitic students visiting the second floor 
Contemplate Rama VIII as the Thai JFK. 

Head doctors confirm 
An uncommon number 
Of unclaimed corpses 
Received a single bullet 

In the forehead 

To study the methods 
Of modern regicide. 

Periwinkle tile and placid aquariums 
Among imperfect babies soaking 
Within dusty beakers of formaldehyde 
Are supposed to soothe you on your tour. 

A brown clay jar on the floor 

Slowly fills with baht 



46 



For the solitary soul of a tiny boy 
Crammed inside to suffocate by his last enemies 

In the world. 
Reach inside. 

You'll feel a young ghost's hand 
reach back, looking for toys. 

Behind you. 

Dr. Niyomsane's own cadaver chuckles 
From a clean hook, the eternal student, daring 
Tomorrow's professional investigators 

to study him. 



47 



An Exhihition of Korean Document Boxes 

What did the owners of these ornate boxes 
Tuck away within these spaces? 

Love letters? A plan to conquer Japan? 

A tally of harvests and a schedule to excavate 

Vast plots of kim chee? 

A poem, not unlike this one? 

A sketch even more beautiful than the box itself? 

A letter to the king, suggesting a library 

Where secretly, colorful revolutionaries 

Would scheme against everyone 

But finally be undone by inertia 

And a tiny, unsung grain of rice from the future? 

A toy. 

A jewel. 

A dream. 

Something completely inappropriate. 



Witnessing these splendid ham gathered together, 

I suspect their original owners would never 
willingly walk into the same room with one another, 
or even give 
The craftsmen a grateful nod. 



48 



Returning home, I apologize to my cardboard boxes, 
Packing the miscellaneous into them. 



49 



Wisdom 

I 

The Greeks say wisdom begins 
with a face in the mirror that 
says I do not know. 

Sun Tzu needed a lovely girl's head to show 

that knowing yourself 

and knowing your foe 

was enough to win a war best won without 

a single drop of blood upon these rosy roads filled with 

beauty. 

Confucius with his aging pupils 

had enough to time to scribble out 

"It is only the wisest and the very stupidest who cannot change." 

The lousy old man from Ho-nan in his laid-back way says, 
"Between good and evil, how much difference?" 

On the Internet, you can find a copy of the I-Ching 
that will give free readings at a click of the button 
if you're too lazy to toss the coins and yarrow, 
with all of the reliability of a tarot deck stripped 
of the minor arcana. 

Exacting physicists in their duty say 
everything that rises must converge 
and every action carries an opposite reaction 
equal and pure. 

The zen monks in the mountains think they can 
get away with the "I don't know" of fushiki and 



50 



nothing more than an empty fist. 

If they aren't careful it will cost all of them their lives. 

The Chinese say that wisdom begins when you 
begin calling things by their proper names. 

An Amway rep (who shall remain anonymous) 

says tough times don't last but tough people do and 

its best to go into business for yourself but not by yourself. 

Such wisdom is as old as the pyramids. 

Depending on whom you talk to. 

In some cultures, 

it is rude to talk to someone if you have nothing to say, 
and after a time you might find that saying nothing and 
saying something amount to the same thing. 



11. 



A Hmong man was quoted obscurely: 

"The world is only as large as a man is willing to walk" 

Exhausted and weary, the GIs in Kuwait say: 
"Wheels are better than heels." 

Mortal Kombat, between its savage rounds contends 

there is no knowledge that is not power. 

It's not worth 

losing your head 

or your heart 

for a quarter. 



51 



From the lightless grave. 
Lord Acton wags his ink-stained fingers powerlessly 

in disapproval 
about abuse 
and absolutes. 

Thundering Mr. Eliot through an April haze 
murmured incomprehensibly 
with a lost Brahmin's lullaby: 
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata, 
while a shrieking young boy from the back streets 
can only see: 

a wasted mile of indigo ink. 

It will never be his mantra. 

The dog whispers conspiratorially 

If you can not kill it or eat it, 

play with it or sleep with it, or even crap on it. 

Leave it alone. 

But then again, they say dreaming dogs lie, don't they? 

Huxley wishes that in 60 years he could have produced 

a message more profound than "treat people a little more nicely,' 

while Beatles proclaim 

that all you need is love. 

So it goes. 

After all of this, a young mother looks at me and asks 
"Why bother looking at all, if that's the best you can give?" 



52 



Peering down into that cavernous cradle 
and her trusting baby's hvely smile. 

How can I come empty handed? 



53 



Warhammer 

The boy in the bookstore corner 
Browses a book of war 

Sanguine gore, chattering apparati 
Cumulus clouds of dusty pandemonium 
Shriek smoke, terror stacks 

And measurements by megadeaths 

This is man versus the alien 
The Stranger 

Horde of chaos 
Occupant of contested space 

To be so lonely 

To be so savage 

I, regarding an ethereal volume 

Of my former enemy's overpriced verses 
A wreath of reconciliation over lost dreams 

Like a distant Martian mercenary 
Beside him, 

I remember when I 
Read books like that, 

A wraith 



54 



Building A Library 

At times I think of having a child 

So I can have my language back again. 
So I can recapture a thousand prodigal 
aggregates of thought. 

Whether I gain a girl or a boy is irrelevant, 

although I think I might not want a hermaphrodite, 
as unenlightened as that may sound. 

I contemplate the inevitable tug of war 
between my partner and I 

to divine some fitting name like Odin plucking runes 
or Adam naming things. 

I stare at my bookshelf and wonder with what to fill the spaces 
in the best interests of the child 
whose head is still a holy tabula rasa. 

I raise my arms and go abracadabra, trying to invoke 

my father's memory and the first books I laid my eyes on, 
now molding in the attic, outdated, 
yet still my grand foundation. 

Perusing the modern bookstore, it's become clear. 
My old companions? 

Supplanted, their glossy replacements 
unfamiliar and pricey, 
whom I cannot help but maintain 
a certain resentful suspicion. 



55 



I consider making my own library from 
scratch and hunt and peck: 

A bestiary of things true, antiqued and rumored. 

A catalog of seeds and their ancestors. 

A history of the world riddled with holy texts 
and rational formulas fighting for the human soul. 

A chronicle of day and night swaddled in wind, in rain. 

A codex of anatomy and architecture 
with a pop-up picture of the future, 
frightfully cubist and compressed. 

As my wife enters, appraising my blueprints, she tsks, and says: 
Weren't you just going to build 
a secret ninja training compound instead? 

Sheepishly, I wonder 

If that idea wouldn't be easier, 

although good senseis are expensive these days. 



56 



The Watermelon 

half eaten, 

this severed skull 

once grew full and round 

in a field I can barely imagine, 

a plump green tiger head by the curling vine 

Now at midnight, 

the scent of my neighbor's marijuana 

heavy in the air, 

I'm staring at what remains 
on my Frigidaire's shelf: 

seeds dark and hard constellations, 
flesh sweet and moist. 

I do not dare compare it to anything else, 
ready to take a black-handled knife 
to this thick shell 

and finish this business like a butcher 
at the edge of the city. 

My mouth is becoming a lake, 
restless, ready to swallow a continent 
one shoreline at a time. 

I wonder if he still hopes 
with what little is left 



57 



to keep growing, 

filled with memories of the caring farmhands 
who cradled him, 

waiting to pass these stories 
on to his own children. 

I close the door, empty-handed, 
my belly filled with chaos... 



58 



Detnocracia 

Father was a tiger 
Ground beneath the wheels 

His fat was burned to hght a torch 
But there's no hberty here 

Only the ashes of the village 
That couldn't evolve 

Where ghost grandchildren play with ghost grandparents 
And the parents are nowhere to be seen at all. 

Where have they gone? Where have they gone? 
A delay of a day for an idea, a delay of a lifetime 

for the dead upon the ground. 

Look, what remains- 

This hut hasn't the ambition of Ozymandias 
These craters were once a rice field 
This ox was no man's enemy 

And what we have left to say could explode any minute. 



59 



Kingdoms 

Purple as 
Crushed shellfish 

Life expectancy. 

That bruised question of finite measures. 

Every hammered crown 
Is removed some way. 

Scepters with their strange rotations 
Hold no true sway over the inner natures 

Of manatee, mechanics 

Or magma with her radial flow. 

Inspired robes unravel every hour 
For gifted maggots and their maws 

Who roll in the smoky valleys 
Once our fathers' holy mountains. 

The Asia you know is murder 
On monarchies. 

American democracy is far safer 
For two-legged mosquitoes. 

There, competition rarely ends in graves 
For anyone but foreigners. 

Distant and near. 



60 



Oni 

My demons have names I try to keep 

To myself 

A scimitar smile as I walk with them in Spring 

A snarl and a python handshake 

That wants to slither away with you 



11. 



Am I a dog in Demon State 

Or a demon in Dog City? 

Easy to say, difficult to believe, 

I can show you the way, in either case 



III. 



I miss the cherry blossoms of DC 
My little memories rattling like the Metro 

Through Farragut Station 



IV. 



Rest, Mishima, 

Rest your beautiful skull 

In the field by Ono no Komachi- 

Dream amid the leaves and stone walls. 

Let the wind shout of forgotten Yamato for you. 

It's been 30 years already. 

You're becoming a cartoon 

While the girl is an idle monk's mocking brush stroke. 



61 



V. 



Could Sojobo have slain Shuten Doji? 
Unworthy speculation! 

Your pen should be remembering the slaughter 
Of Khoua Her's tiny waifs 

Or the death of Tong Kue 

The drowned of the Mekong 

Or even poor Vincent Chin 

Struggling for his last breath 

Beneath Detroit bats 

Devoid of pity 

VI. 

No matter what I shout 

There isn't a stone on the earth that will shatter today. 



62 



Thread Betiveen Stone. 

Those old Greeks. 

They punctured time with their stories, stitching 

century to century 

And I did not see this until 3 A.M. naturally. 

I was raised on their tales pebble by pebble 

Like Aesop's thirsty fox- 

A scholar in the wake of semiotics and systems theory 
So irrelevant when children were master snipers 
For secret wars on the Plain of Jars and Afghan mountains. 
Times when the only teachers that mattered in Kosovo 
were mercenaries. 

If you stare at the labyrinth long enough, you'll see 
Arrogant Arachne's thread, used secretly by Gordius 
Until ambitious Alexander cut that silly knot in two 
With a sword as sharp as Ockham's. 

As your eyes grow bleary from musty notes, after a time. 
You will connect those pieces to Ariadne, 
And the trap laid for old Dedaelus, 

Father of Icarus and Minotaur lairs. 

One threads the maze with a lover to defeat the furious beast 
While the other threads spiral shells with an ant and a string- 
A beast to defeat an irate patron's riddle! 

The legends are filled with strange ties like that. 
It's almost Buddhist in its circular irony. 



63 



Poor Oedipus never saw how he was tripped up by his puzzle. 

And scholars 

Never noticed he got it only half-right. Half-wrong. 

The Sphinxian dilemma was no empty koan. 

"What has four legs at morning, two at noon, and three at sunset? 
What is the weakest when it has the most support?" 

Man, the children chirp. Man was the answer that made him king. 

No. 

The question was one of self-knowledge, 
and the only true response was "I". 

But he could not see himself within the riddle. 
So he returned to home, to dark fates decreed. 
Undone by his blindness to his own identity. 

That's what you get for cheating with the Oracle. 
There are no shortcuts with Destiny. 

The Greeks laid traps like this that took centuries to spring. 
The whole Trojan war was a conflict of divine metaphors. 

If that lusty prince had chosen between 
wisdom or the peaceful hearth 
And not the promise of fleeting beauties, 
a thousand men might have 
Different graves. 



64 



Today, in the heart of Western democracy. 
As presidents chase interns 
With their own oral traditions. 

It's hard not to wince at unlearned lessons. 

And gazing at Egypt, 

Beneath the pyramids of Gaza and great royal valleys 

There is a world 

Oblivious to all of my mythic meanderings. 

Scorched and bleached to epic simplicity. 

You will never understand the dreams of mummies 

Until you see a silkworm cocoon 

Who aspires to emerge as a butterfly in her next incarnation 
before someone unravels her for her thread. 



65 



IV. Miscellaneous Rumors Of My Time 



66 



Carhon 

Although the body is 70% water 
What remains is built upon carbon. 

I stand awed by the orbits of these dark atoms: 
The infinite flavors they form 
The varied hues and sounds 
The motions they generate 

Erecting cities, razing mountains 
Feeding upon everything certain. 

They even dream, whether fashioned 
Into butterflies or soft humans. 

Why don't I taste like my distant cousin the chicken 
Or a banana? 

Pressing my hands hard together, I fail to change into 
Diamonds or oil. 

I suppose it's not enough pressure 
To spark transformation. 

Not even into a new star burning brightly. 
The sun for billions 

Who will never realize how close they came 

To being in my shoes. 



67 



Her B ody, My Monuments 

Fierce as a thirsty nak 
In April 

Nestled in a dress 

The hue of sleepy That Dam 

on Chantha Khoumane 

Her lissome stride 
Awakes dreamers 

The colors of the world 
The children of rivers 

Our sandalwood city 

Where talaats greet the moon. 

Phi dance with dreams 

And the future begins to stir 
Not with a yawn, but her laugh, 
A gaze 

That has known stars the way 
Others know flowers. 



68 



Pavlov's Menagerie Ruminates 

Well, better this than life 

In an electrified rat cage. 
Hugging Harlow's wire mothers. 
Getting stuffed in Schrodinger's lethal boxes 
Or getting launched into low orbit 

To bathe in cosmic rays for the Kremlin 
Because I couldn't sign fast enough 
Or cuddle a kitten in front of a camera. 

Navigating the thin-walled maze 

Between best friend 

Or mad moments like Cujo 

I've still got most of my original equipment. 
I'm fed. 

One ring, and my belly goes hollow 
As the average human soul. 

Lately, I gnaw on memories more than substance 
But I'm still not a sheep. 

And no one begs for my vote. 



69 



Moments In The Eye 

Among those we see 

Those most intriguing 

Hint 

Of her soul 

When cameras aren't flashing 

It's like glimpsing a glittering carp 
Seconds before she changes 

Into something truly immortal 
Human tongues lack words for. 

Dashing away with a laugh 
And a playful splash 

To cheer the hving 



70 



Timepieces 

Stone. Beam. Gear. Road. 

My wife beneath Big Ben 

Returns 

Wonders: What lasts. 

Sees change. 

The clock ticks but has not seen 
The worlds she has, 

Her dreams turned into ink and page. 
Voice and hope. 

Who should really stand the final test of time? 

The watch, or the one who winds it? 

She walks down the street 

A child of stars who laugh above 
With the true answer. 



71 



Zelkova Tree 



A friend warned me the other day 
Not to write about the zelkova 

Or I might come back as one 
And find myself cut into furniture 

Just as things start to get interesting. 

The other day the zelkova warned me 
Not to worry about my friends 

Or I might stay human 

And find myself cutting furniture 
Just as things start to get interesting. 



72 



Poultry 

Scrawny daughters of dinosaurs. 

Your lovers never shut up — 

Preening in streets hned with black feathers 

As if every hour is the start of a new day. 
And the sun won't ascend without them. 

Beneath your bamboo domes 
I see every soft throat with its 
Destiny of edge and demise. 

You're in hot water. 

Losing every frantic thread 

That failed your sad quests for flight. 

Your legs stiffen without eulogies. 

And your wings can't pray their petitions 

To the god of the Archaeopteryx for delivery. 

Arriving in St. Paul, immigration asks me 
If I've been in contact with livestock. 

I want to say: "Are you kidding? 

Have you ever even been to my homeland?" 

Looking out to the rising sun my breakfast 
Will never see again. 



73 



The Tuk-Tuk Diaries, Part I 

Roar. Sputter and vroom 

Take a hard turn at 60 

With a ghttering "beep beep" 

Down a street of mutts and roaming butts 

Smoke and flesh, beer splashing. 
Cash flashing just below waste-level. 

Take a ride, farang, and see what 
A handful of baht and some bargaining gets you 
By the time that you come to a stop in Bangkok, 
The city of insomniac angels. 

Just be sure to watch your luggage at all times. 

II. 

Khaosan Road is canned Chaos, an eternal Friday 

Of wolf whistles and smoke. 

Even at noon, you could fall into a raving patch of 

Midnight during a full moon 

Just by stepping into the wrong noodle shop. 

You can buy crispy critters for a steal 
Or prop up an Akha village for a day 
For the price of a silver bangle during the down season 

The music comes at you like a stranger knocking on your door. 
Beware of souls trying to make money off 
Backpacking cheapskates here, reeking of weeds. 
Bad funk and second-hand dreams. 



74 



They've seen your kind before and can strip your wallet 

Before you've finished your first swallow of the street. 
At least you can get funny T-Shirts here. 
But they shrink. 

III. 

Catch a tuk-tuk to Doi Suthep 

And you can see golden chedi and giant bells. 

Fire a cheap crossbow just past a naga's stony mouth 

And sing your songs of heartbreak to the rain 
Using a karaoke machine among the food stalls. 

"It's beautiful," I hear a henna-haired tourist gush. 
Her guide, a young boy with a ghastly scorpion tattoo 
Wants to tell her "Take me home with you/' 

But doesn't have the words, and just says: 
"Where would you like to go next?" 

Trying not to rush her, hoping she doesn't decide 
To stay here forever instead. 

IV. 

In Laos, there's an army of tuk-tuks at the Talaat Sao 

Waiting for the right word to go. 

They slumber, tiny blue dragons. 

With wheels for eyes and wide mouths 

For grinning passengers 

Who never seem to come. 

There aren't many places to go besides home. 

The wat and the market 

And glancing next door at those raucous streets 



75 



Of hollow, 

It may be just as well. 



76 



Whorl 

Today, a poet died 

Because he lost all of his questions. 

Somewhere in France, a tire exploded. 

Delaying a young girl's tour. 

She's burst tears. 

Caving around a fistful of euros 

As she senses lost moments 

Just over the next hill 
Floating, a red balloon. 

There she imagines Joan of Arc, 

A bicycle thief and Jacques Cousteau. 

A street that's been there 
For centuries. 

Elsewhere, a little boy becomes an artist 

As he sniffs his first jar of tempera 

Handed out by a young teacher from Hokkaido 

Unaware of the seventy two tubes of oil paint 

He will use in his entire lifetime. 

Today, I'm waving at a crow in Como Park 
As if my hands were semaphore flags 
Signaling "Hello," like a transient grey alien 

Wondering what a bird has to do to become 
reincarnated as a writer the next time around. 



77 



Yesterday, a girl I knew changed her hair color 
Insisting it made a difference, handing me 
An antique birdcage she found in the street 

Its curved door broken off, a rusty smile for 
Curious dogs who don't know what to make of it. 
Howling in a Frogtown alley devoid of poetry. 



78 



End Notes 



79 



In The Analytical Language of John Wilkins (El idioma analitico dejohn 
Wilkins), the writerjorge Luis Barges described 'a certain Chinese 
Encyclopedia/ the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in 
which it is written that animals are divided into: 

L those that belong to the Emperor, 

2. embalmed ones, 

3. those that are trained, 

4. suckling pigs, 

5. mermaids, 

6. fabulous ones, 

7. stray dogs, 

8. those included in the present classification, 

9. those that tremble as if they were mad, 

10. innumerable ones, 

IL those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, 

12. others, 

13. those that have just broken a flower vase, 

14. those that from a long way off look like flies. 

As a helpful courtesy, the writer includes these brief notes on 
things of varying interest. Ni men kwam waw pheau thi 
soy haw beung lok vithi me: 

Nak: Sometimes synonymous with Naga. Typically depicted as a 
many-headed giant serpent, as a river creature, and sometimes as 
a subterranean being. Nak are believed to help the Lao during 
wars, floods and are associated with fertility. Some say the Lao are 
descendants of a giant Nak living in the Mekong. To some, Nak 
are snake deities who converted to Buddhism and now protect the 
Buddhist Dharma. In art, they appear on the balustrades of temple 
causeways and platforms ("naga bridges"), personifying the 
rainbow, bridging the earthly and celestial worlds. 

80 



Iinperious _ 

Bluegrass: A grass native to the temperate regions around the 
world, including the Midwest of North America, Europe and 
Asia. Also known as meadow-grass and speargrass. Butterfly 
food. 

Burning Eden One Branch At A Time 

Mississippi: A river running through North America. Figures 
occasionally in US art and literature. Wet. 

Vientiane: The current capitol of Laos, population 200,000. Also 
known as City of Sandalwood, or City of the Moon, depending on 
your source. 

Htnong Market At Luang Prabang 

Luang Prabang: The former royal capitol of Laos and a UN World 
Heritage Site, population 22,000. Many lovely views. 



lO 



lO: A moon of Jupiter. In Greek mythology, a priestess of Hera, 
the wife of Zeus, king of the gods. lo has many torments and 
misadventures, including being changed into a white cow chased 
by a horny Zeus and a jealous Hera, but she ultimately becomes 
an ancestor of Hercules, a prominent hero in that tradition. 

Safavids: An Iranian dynasty (1502-1722) with origins in a Sufi 
order. The Safavid dynasty was established by Shah Ismail, who 
was also a poet in several languages, but didn't quit his day job. 



81 



Song of The Kaiju 

Kaiju: A Japanese term for "mysterious beast" and as of this 
writing, those featured in films such as Godzilla, Camera, Mothra, 
and King Kong, etc. The term daikaiju is occasionally applied to 
particularly giant monsters, although the precise threshold at 
which one qualifies is contentious. 

Typhon: In Greek myth, the last son of Gaia and Tartarus, 
described typically as an ornery storm demon with a hundred 
heads and a hundred serpents issuing from his thighs. An enemy 
of Olympian gods. 

Little Bear 

Ursa Minor: A constellation also known as the 'little dipper' or 
'smaller bear' often connected with the myth of Callisto. 

Ohserving The Oblivious 

Bayon: 13**^ century Cambodian temple built by King Jayavarman 
VII and the centre of his capital, Angkor Thom. Most researchers 
concur it's the last state temple to be built at Angkor and the only 
one built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist temple. 

The Deep Ones 

Deep Ones: A fictional race of immortal, frog-like, ocean-dwelling 
creatures with an affinity for mating with humans, featured in the 
work of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and others. 



82 



The You Do Devil 

The You Do Devil: The rascal who causes those things you do, 
especially those without explanation. 

Aorta: The largest artery in the human body, connected to the 
heart. 

Amnesia: I forget what was going to go here. 

An Archaeology ofSnoiv Forts 

Cathay: An anglicized version of the term for China popularized 
by Marco Polo upon his encounters with the Khitan tribe ruling 
China then. 

Pompeii: A ruined Roman city destroyed and completely buried 
during the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius on 24 August 
79 AD. Today, a UN World Heritage site swarming with tourists. 

Qin: (778 BC-207 BC) A state during the 'Spring and Autumn' and 
'Warring States' periods of China. 

Laocoon: In Greek myth, a priest who tried to warn the Trojans 
from accepting the Trojan Horse into their city. Essentially coined 
the phrase: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." For his trouble, he 
and his sons were soon strangled by sea-serpents sent by the gods. 

Maginot: A line of concrete fortifications built by the French 
between World War I and II, designed to protect the French from 
invasion. Generally considered one of the great failures of military 
history. Frequently mispronounced. 



83 



Before Going Fera l 

Limbo: In Roman Catholicism, a place for souls who cannot enter 
heaven but don't deserve hell. Protestant and Orthodox 
Christianity does not accept the existence of limbo. Egassem terces 
a si ereh. 

Destroy All Monsters 

Herodotus (484 BC-ca.425 BC): A Greek writer regarded as the 
"father of history" by the West. He wrote 'The Histories,' about his 
wide travels through the Mediterranean. 

five fragments 

S-21: Security Prison 21, the former Tuol Svay Prey High high 
school in Cambodia where prisoners of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge 
regime were held, interrogated and tortured before being sent for 
execution at the Choeung Ek extermination centre outside of the 
capitol of Phnom Penh. An estimated 17,000-20,000 people were 
held there, of whom only 7 survived by the time the prison was 
closed. Today, a tourist attraction with a gift shop. 

Weisman: Also known as the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of 
Art located on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in 
Minneapolis, Minnesota since 1934. 

Dion's Cabinet of Curiosities: In 2001 at the Weisman Art 
Museum, artist Mark Dion examined the distinctions between 
"objective" science and "subjective" art and the logic of classifying 
systems that shape knowledge and memory. Fnord. He used the 
European Renaissance tradition of the Wunderkammern (literally 
"wonder chamber" or cabinet of wonder), where early collectors 

84 



carefully displayed varied objects to astonish viewers. Many of 
these private collections became the basis for public museums in 
the late-18th and 19th centuries. 

Yul Brynner (1920-1985): A Russian-born actor. He appeared in 
many movies and stage productions in the United States, best 
known for his portrayal of the king of Thailand in the film version 
of Rodgers & Hammerstein musical The King and 1. 

B-52: The Boeing B-52 Strato fortress, a long-range jet strategic 
bomber flown by the United States Air Force (USAF) since 1954. 
Its original mission was nuclear deterrence through retaliation. 
Used during the Vietnam War as a carpet bomber. 

Neak Luong: A Cambodian town. 

Ambassador Swank: Emory C. Swank served as ambassador to 
Cambodia from 1970-1973. 

Trivial Pursuit: A popular 20**^ century board game testing 
knowledge, particularly of obscure facts. 

The Ghost NangNak 

Nang Nak: A legendary Thai ghost, the wife of a soldier. She 
came back with their dead child and tried to resume a normal life 
with him when he returned from the war. Things went a little 
wrong, although accounts dispute certain details. The subject of 
many popular stories, movies and operas. A shrine was erected to 
her at Wat Mahabut in Bangkok, where she regularly receives 
visitors. 

Takian trees: A tree found in Thailand. Frequently reputed to 
house the spirits of women. 

85 



Wat Mahabut : Chiefly known as the temple where a shrine for 
Nang Nak was built. Located at Soi 7 of Sukhumwit Soi 11 in 
Bangkok. 

The Tiger Penned At Kouangsi Falls 

Kouangsi Falls: Also known as Tat Kuang Si, located 
approximately 32km South of Luang Prabang. They are a series of 
very beautiful tiered waterfalls over limestone formations. 

A Question of Place 

Question: The beginning of many things. 

Our Place: Uncertain things. 

Gaia: In Greek myth, the goddess personifying the earth. 

Maggots 

Samsara: In Buddhism,, the cycle of birth and consequent decay 
and death, rebirth and redeath, in which all beings in the universe 
participate. Samsara is associated with suffering and the antithesis 
of nirvana. 

SongkranNiyontsane's Forensic Medicine Museum 

Rama VIll (1925 -1946): Also known as King Ananda Mahidol, 
Rama VIII was the eighth king of the Chakri dynasty of Thailand. 
He died a mysterious death. 

JFK (1917-1963): A common abbreviation since the 20**^ century for 
John F. Kennedy, an assassinated president of the United States of 
America. 

86 



Regicide: The murder of kings and royalty. 

Baht: The principle unit of currency in Thailand. 

Wisdom 

Sun Tzu <544-496 BC): A Chinese general^ author of the ancient 
text 'The Art of War.' 

I-Ching : Also known as 'The Book of Changes' One of the oldest 
classical Chinese texts, it is a set of predictions represented by a 
set of 64 abstract line arrangements called hexagrams. 

Yarrow: An astringent herb also known as arrowroot, bad man's 
plaything, carpenter's weed, death flower, devil's nettle, eerie, and 
old man's mustard among others. Dried yarrow is used in I Ching 
divination. 

Fushiki: When the monk Bodhidharma, founder of zen, met 
Emperor Wu, the Emperor asked, "What is the holy ultimate 
truth?" he answered, "It is Emptiness itself and there is nothing 
holy." "Who, then, is the one who now stands confronting me?" 
responded the Emperor. "I do not know (Fushiki)!" was 
Bodhidharma's reply. 

Mortal Kombat: A video game from the 1990s depicting martial 
arts competitions in a contemporary fantasy setting. Source for 
many bad movies, comic books, TV shows, techno songs and live 
theater. 

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965): An English poet whose work includes "The 
Wasteland" and "The Hollow Men". 



87 



Brahmin: The highest caste in traditional Hindu society, 
composed of priests and teachers. 

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata: In "The Wasteland," T.S. Eliot 
quotes the Hindu text, the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, regarding 
what the thunder said: "Give, Be Compassionate, Be Self- 
Controlled." 

Mantra: A religious or mystical syllable or poem typically used to 
focus concentration. 

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) : A tall English humanist writer who 
emigrated to the US, largely remembered as author of "A Brave 
New World," a novel about a dystopian future. 

Warhatniner 

Wraith: A shadow-thing, a spirit of another world, a ghost, a 
mysterious being to be feared. 

Laotian American Writers: 

[Nithan chak nak tang nang seu gnang bo leew theua phok mi lai 
khon thi gnang khien] 

Building A Library 

Runes: The characters of certain ancient alphabets. 20*^ - 21^* 
century usage seen primarily among academics and nerds. See 
also: J.R. R. Tolkien , Dungeons & Dragons, and Viking 
Re-Enactors. 



88 



Tabula Rasa: A "blank slate" theory of the mind, that individuals 
are born with no innate or built-in mental content, and all their 
knowledge is built up gradually from their experiences of the 
outside world. 

Abracadabra: A commonly used incantation by stage magicians, 
formerly used as a cure for fevers and inflammations. Multiple 
theories on the origin of the word, including Aramaic for "I will 
create as I speak." Believed more powerful than "Prestol" 

Codex: A quire of manuscript pages held together by stitching: the 
earliest form of book, replacing scrolls and wax tablets of earlier 
times. 

Glossaries: Made by humans, always suspect. 

Sensei: A teacher, from the Japanese language. 

The Watermelon 

Frigidaire: American refrigerator manufacturer originally known 
as the Guardian Frigerator Company based in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 
established in 1916. 

Democracia 

Ozymandias: A sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 
1818. The poem is believed to refer to Ramses the Great (i.e., 
Ramses II), Pharaoh of the 19th dynasty of ancient Egypt. 



Oni 



Oni: A Japanese ogre, troll or demon usually portrayed as 



89 



hideous, gigantic creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two 
long horns. Originally invisible spirits or gods who cause 
disasters, disease, and other unpleasantness. They can assume 
different forms to deceive (and often devour) humans. 

Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) : The public name of Kimitake 
Hiraoka, a prominent Japanese writer famous for his nihilistic 
post-war writings, an obsession with the bushido warrior code of 
the samurai and his ritual suicide after a bizarre attempt to inspire 
a coup d'etat to restore the emperor of Japan. 

Yak: Powerful spirits, also known as yaksha, or yuk, and in some 
cases related to the dreaded Rakshasa, all of whom do not make 
an appearance in this book. 

One no Komachi (825-900 A.D.): A famous Japanese poet in the 
Heian period, noted as a rare beauty. 

Yamato: An expression related to "Japanese spirit" or the "Soul of 
Old Japan". 

Sojobo: The m3^hical king of the tengu, minor bird-like deities in 
the mountain forests of Japan. He is extremely powerful, and 
legend says he has the strength of 1,000 normal tengu, living on 
Mount Kurama {north of Kyoto). Sojobo is best known for 
teaching the doomed warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune martial arts. 

Shuten Doji: A terrifying Oni whose name literally means "Great 
Drunkard Boy," or "Drunken Boy Ogre" who liked to eat human 
flesh and drink blood, partying like a frat boy with his Oni 
buddies while terrorizing the nearby nubile maidens of Nippon. 

Khoua Her: A woman who killed her six children in Minnesota in 
1998. 

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Tong Kue (1962-1998): A Hmong man killed by Detroit police in 
June, 1998 in his own home even though the police were called in 
only to open the door and get his family back inside after a 
domestic argument with Tong Kue's in-laws. Almost no one 
remembers this case. 

Vincent Chin (1955-1982): A Chinese American murdered in 1982 
in Detroit/ Michigan by two white autoworkers who'd recently 
been laid off. His killers served no jail time, were given three years 
probation, fined $3,000 and ordered to pay $780.00 in court costs. 

Detroit bats: Potentially lethal recreational objects. 

The United States of America (USA): Changes people. 

Thread Between Stone 

Aesop: A possibly fictitious Greek author of fables. 

Semiotics: The study of signs and symbols. 

Systems theory: A transdisciplinary/multiperspectual theory 
studying the structure and properties of systems and the 
relationships that give rise to new properties within the whole 
system. But it's not really as boring as it sounds. 

Plain of Jars: A large plain containing thousands of mysterious 
stone jars scattered throughout the Xieng Khouang province in the 
Laos. A primary battleground during the war for Laos in the 1960s 
and 70s. Also known as the Plaines Des Jarres and the PDJ. 

Arachne: A legendary weaver who angered Athena, Greek 
goddess of weaving (among other things) and was turned into a 

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spider after defeating Athena in a weaving competition. 
Gordius: The legendary first king of Phrygia whose chariot was 
tied by what came to be known as the Gordian Knot. Legend said 
whoever could unravel it would be master of 'Asia'. Rather than 
fiddle with the knot, Alexander the Great sliced the knot in half 
with his sword, in 333 BC. 

William of Ockham (1288-1348): English logician and Franciscan 
friar who developed Ockham's Razor: Explaining any 
phenomenon should use as few assumptions as possible. 

Koan: An unanswerable zen Buddhist riddle. 

Reliable: The antonym of many things. A virtue demanding 
questions. 

Oracle: A wise counsel and prophet. In particular, the Oracle of 
Delphi gave prophecies from a temple on the slopes of Mount 
Parnassus. Her advice frequently helped many mythic figures 
overcome challenges set by Greek gods for one offense or another. 
Often depicted as sexy, mad or both. 

Poultrt/ 

Archaeopterj'x: The earliest known avian, similar in size and 
shape to a magpie. Tastes like chicken. 

Whorl 

Joan of Arc (c.1412-1431): A French heroine and Catholic Saint. 
Presently a mandatory role for all French actresses to play at least 
once. 



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Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997): A French naval officer, explorer, 
filmmaker, and researcher who spent a lifetime studying the sea 
and all forms of life within it. A manfish who hated school as a 
child. 

Semaphore flags: A signaling system based on waving a pair of 
hand-held flags in particular patterns to designate specific letters 
and words. Popular where human voices are hard to hear. 

Frogtown: A neighborhood in St. Paul's District 7, known 
officially as the Thomas-Dale neighborhood located northwest of 
downtown St. Paul in the north central part of the city. 

Laos: Formerly known as the Kingdom of a Million Elephants, 
divided into 16 khoueng. A landlocked country approximately the 
size of Utah, currently known as Sathalanalat Paxathipatai 
Paxaxon Lao. The national flower is the dok champa. Its roots are 
in the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th 
Century under King Fa Ngum. For 300 years Lan Xang included 
large parts of present-day Cambodia and Thailand, and all of 
Laos. People still live there, and dream. 



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Acknowledsements 

Burning Eden One Branch At A Time, AsianAmericanPoetry.Com, 
August, 2005 

Little Bear, Astropoetica, Fall, 2003 

Wisdom, Fury, Bamboo Among the Oaks, October, 2002 

Oni, Big City Lit, February 2004 

Song of the Kaiju, Destroy All Monstersl, G-Fan #75, Spring, 2006 

Imperious, Whorl, Hyphen Magazine #9, 2006 

The Deep Ones and Before Going Feral, lUumen #6, Spring 2007 

The Maidens ofSivilay, Mad Poets of Terra, October, 2003 

Moon Crossing Bone, My Dinner With Cluster Bombs, 2003 

Pavlov's Menagerie Rujninates, Northography, November, 2006 

Democracia, Other Voices International Poetry Project, 2004 

Warhamtner, Paj Ntaub Voice, Spring 2004, 

Poultry, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, October, 2004 

An Archaeology of Snow Forts, Thread Between Stone, 
Tales of the Unanticipated #27, 2006 

Kingdoms, Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry, October, 2004 

A Question of Place, Whistling Shade, Summer, 2006 



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